Edinson Cavani’s form over the last month or so has been absolutely world-class, and after committing his future to Manchester United for an additional year, he will offer as much off the field as he has been, on it.
For all the talk of summer transfer budgets and constraints imposed after the season had been impacted by Covid-19, there are some things money can still not buy.
Many believed Manchester United took another gamble in a “washed up” veteran much like when they bought Radamel Falcao and Alexis Sanchez but this just seemed very different from the start.
The experience that Edinson Cavani has brought to the Red Devils’ forward line is priceless, with his decision to stay with the club for another season one that has saved United millions this summer.
Had Cavani not renewed his contract, United may have been forced into pursuing the likes of Harry Kane and Erling Braut Haaland, which would have cost them hundreds of millions of pounds.
Speak to anyone at the club and they can talk about Cavani’s impressive goalscoring record, including an amazing 10 goal involvements in his last seven games, but the first thing that everyone mentions are the intangibles he brings to the table as to how he is teaching/mentoring those around him.
“In the last month or so he’s been unbelievable,” Luke Shaw told Sky Sports after United’s 3-1 Premier League win over Aston Villa at Villa Park.
“Not just the goals but the experience he brings to the team and the younger players.
“He pushes them a lot and hopefully he can keep doing that towards the end of the season.”
United’s first-half performance at Villa Park showed just what the side was missing with Cavani on the bench getting a rest. They were clearly lacking that focal point up top – something that United have clearly been lacking when Cavani has not featured.
Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood were switching between the central striker position, but they were much more effective on the flanks and do not have that off the ball movement and positional sense like the Uruguayan. They are both top players but neither, at this moment in time, have honed their craft as real no. 9s.
At the other end of the spectrum is Cavani. His finishing is as clinical as back in the day during his time at Napoli and PSG. The 34-year old has played football at the highest level for 17 years, but it is his movement that stands out and is as Michael Owen called it, “the best in the world”.
His goal off the bench on Sunday was a perfect example, as he darted between Matty Cash and Ezri Konsa to get on the end of a delightful cross from Rashford with a towering header to perfectly place the ball into the bottom corner.
It was an elite finish, but his vision and movement really took the breath away. His game sense is really unparalleled and he has shown that age is just a number while proving to be lethal in front of goal.
“He’s the centre forward you want in the box. His movement is incredible and it’s something everyone can learn from,” manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said in the past.
Greenwood does not have much to learn when it comes to finishing. Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, Bruno Fernandes and Harry Maguire have all said that the teenager is the best finisher at the club, however, the movement is something that he needs to watch and learn from Cavani.
He threw Tyrone Mings off with ease after a jinking turn, before finishing at the near post. It was his 16th Premier League goal and makes him the highest goalscoring teenager in the club’s history to beat Wayne Rooney.
It is what the former Paris Saint-Germain star does off the ball including his movement in and around the box, which really adds to United’s attacking play. He knows precisely how to time his runs, how to play on the shoulder of the defender, drop his marker and how to drag the opposition across the box to give his teammates more space.
His vision is also second to none. He seems to have a telepathic connection with all the attacking players and it seems like he has been a Red Devils for many years.
They are all attributes that he has learned over nearly two decades of playing top-flight football. Although the likes of Haaland and Kane would both be a great fit in United’s system, Cavani has a level of experience that neither of them can bring, which could potentially hamper the growth of Greenwood.
While there is a genuine belief that Greenwood has a long career ahead as a no.9, he needs to learn as much as possible from Cavani while he can to elevate his game to the next level.
“He’s learning on the job, which is not easy. It’s difficult and he’s had to bear a lot of responsibility and he’s popped up with so many important goals for us,” Solskjaer said.
“The kid just turns the game around in one split second and the goal against Villa was excellent, so I’m delighted that he’s got back to his goalscoring best and he’s learning more and more all the other bits as well.”
You can see why Solskjaer did everything to persuade Cavani to stay, despite his wish to return to South America.
Cavani’s goal involvements are vital, but his influence on the training ground is just as important.
He is the master teaching the apprentices, and another year of that is priceless for Solskjaer’s long-term plan as he looks to see Manchester United at the helm of English and European football once again, just like when he was a player under Sir Alex Ferguson for the great club from the northwest of England.